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Amazon Started the Day Against DRM Festivities a Week Early by Intentionally Breaking My Kindle eBooks

Defective byamazon frown Design's International Day Against DRM is coming up next week, and fortuitously Amazon has given us another example of why DRM is harmful. Early this morning I got an email with an ebook I have been waiting for. It was Mytro by John Biggs, which I had backed in the Kickstarter campaign, and the email delivered the DRM-free ebooks I had bought. I'm not one to wait, so i immediately downloaded the ebook and tried to open it in the Kindle app on my PC.

And that's when I saw this error message:

kindle for pc error message

For those who can't read the text, it says "The version of the Kindle application has expired and can no longer be used. Please update to a newer version."

You see, every so often Amazon likes to disable existing Kindle for PC apps and force users to upgrade. This is the first time I encountered it, but according to the support forums thread I found Amazon has been pulling this trick since at least 2012. I'm not the first person to be surprised when my Kindle app refused to run, and I am probably not even the 41st.

I was able to download and install the updated Kindle app, so this was only a minor inconvenience - today. Luckily I had a functional internet connection; if I were traveling, at a conference, or anywhere away from my home, I might have been out of luck.

And this time around I was also lucky in that the update didn't bork access to my ebook library. Back in 2011 Amazon pushed out an update for the K4PC app which was simply broken. I, and many other Kindle users, lost access to every Kindle format ebook on our PCs, including stuff we bought elsewhere as well as any annotations or notes we made in those other ebooks.

And that, folks, is what makes DRM, and especially Amazon's DRM, so utterly pernicious. Not only was Amazon able to block me from accessing the content which I licensed from them, they also cut me off from content I own and content I created myself.

So when the Day Against DRM rolls around again next week, it might be worth your time to make sure your content is safe. Like Cory Doctorow says:

If you can't open it, You don't own it!

12 Comments on Amazon Started the Day Against DRM Festivities a Week Early by Intentionally Breaking My Kindle eBooks

  1. There was a specific reason for this update. I can’t remember it now, but at the time I read the reason, I do remember thinking that it made sense. Something with XP maybe?

  2. I’m running Windows 7. And I can’t recall seeing anything about this update – not in the press nor in any email from Amazon.

  3. Thomas Porcello // 2 May, 2014 at 12:40 pm //

    This update also stopped my tools from working. I couldn’t open Kindle books in Calibre.

  4. And that is probably why Amazon forces us to update the K4PC app. They don’t force you to update any other app.

  5. And this is another example why I refuse to use anything that has the word “Kindle” attached to it.

  6. I wouldn’t necessarily say anyone else is better, but at least with the Adobe Epub no one can yank all of your ebooks away from you.

  7. Sturmund Drang // 2 May, 2014 at 8:51 pm //

    That’s why I got so torqued in this post http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/04/23/kindle-for-ipad-iphone-updated/ when I wrote:

    And the old man whines again.

    Am I the only person on the planet who doesn’t understand why I should want an app that MUST be reinstalled periodically so that I can enjoy the products I’ve already bought? Where’s the justification in that? Why does everyone put up with it? Really? I’m supposed to pay for books, close enough to what paper would have cost me, so that I can only read them for a year and then have to upgrade my app, and agree to whatever terms are unilaterally thrust at me just so I can keep reading them? Why? For what purpose? Can you show me ANY other product or service sold like this? I must be off my meds.

  8. Sturmund Drang // 2 May, 2014 at 8:54 pm //

    Sorry… I should have added this. The question is, why did I get that message over a week ago and Nate is just getting it now? Obviously not for a technical reason. I bought the books. The app I had when I bought the books worked just fine. Breaking the app so I can’t read the books is criminal. Or should be.

  9. I haven’t run Kindle for PC in months.

  10. Timothy Wilhoit // 2 May, 2014 at 10:10 pm //

    I’m not sure why you’re having problems with the tools. They’re working fine for me. There was a discussion about the update on Mobileread a few weeks ago:
    http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=236261

  11. I think it has nothing to do with DRM but still showing the problems with using proprietary software.

  12. There’s more to DRM than just encryption.

    Amazon is restricting me from running the app. They decided to have the app phone home and then refuse to run based on Amazon’s whim.

    That sounds like DRM to me.

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